Story Provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Portland has become one of the top cities in the nation for its food scene—from trendy neighborhood food carts to fine dining to farm-to-table restaurants. It’s also a place where people embrace eating locally-grown food. Like, seriously, uber-local. That’s why urban farmers like Stacey Givens are making such an impact on Portland’s appetite.
“I was drawn to Portland because of the food scene, and the restaurant and farming scene,” Stacey says.
She owns a unique operation in the northeast Cully neighborhood called The Side Yard Farm and Kitchen. It’s an urban farm with three separate lots (all within one mile from each other), a supper and brunch club and a catering company.
Stacey has a knack for the farm-to-table business because she worked in restaurants since she was 15 years old. About eight years ago she worked at a Portland restaurant with its own rooftop garden. There, she split her time between the two things she loves most—farming and cooking. That position inspired her to start her own farm-to-table business. She started farming in 2009, and over the years has gradually expanded her operation to what it is today.
Everything Stacey’s business does is, in her own words, “insanely local.” Stacey gathers nearly every ingredient for her menu within a two-mile radius of her neighborhood.
Her farm provides 15 Portland restaurants with local produce. The selection includes about 20 species of culinary herbs (basil, sage, lemon verbena, edible flowers, and more) and a variety of vegetables (greens and lettuces, root and bulb veggies, tomatoes, beans)—and her favorite crop, ground cherries.
“We grow a lot of specialty herbs and interesting things that we only sell to chefs,” Stacey says. “I try to keep it exciting, like a candy store for chefs.”
With high demand for local produce in a small urban setting, Givens needed a way to expand her crop production. That’s when she turned to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Through the high tunnel initiative, NRCS provided technical and financial assistance to help Stacey set up a 20-by-40-foot high tunnel on her one-acre urban lot. NRCS is also helping Stacey test the soil and develop a nutrient management plan to help her manage the amount of fertilizers used.
“We needed something to grow tomatoes in so we could extend our growing season and get more production,” Stacey says. “We have about 84 tomato plants in here, which is more than we’ve ever done. For an urban farm, 84 tomatoes is a lot! I’m very happy with the size of the high tunnel and what we qualified for through NRCS.”
High tunnels like the one on Stacy’s farm are extremely beneficial in urban settings because they reduce the need to transport produce from out of town.
“These high tunnels are producing food on a local basis for an area that has a metropolitan base, so it cuts down on the energy consumption of the region,” says Kim Galland, NRCS district conservationist for Multnomah County. “It allows Stacey to plant earlier in the spring and later into the fall, while protecting her crops from frost. High tunnels allow farmers to get higher yields, better production, hit the market earlier, and provide longer service to their customers—and it’s all being done on a small-scale urban farm.”
NRCS has technical and financial assistance available for urban producers to install high tunnels and pursue other conservation activities on their farms. Funding is provided by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – a 2014 Farm Bill program that allows NRCS to reimburse producers for a portion of the expense.
“I think a lot of urban farmers don’t think about government funding, because we’re so small scale,” Stacey says. “They may not think about organizations that could help us. I know I didn’t, until a large-scale farmer told me about NRCS. So I urge other farmers to definitely look into the NRCS for help with soil management, irrigation, high tunnels, because it’s definitely worth it.”
To see what opportunities are available in your area, contact your local USDA Service Center.